Top Tips On How To Cook Like An Italian Nonna, From Emilia Strazzanti

By Dave R. Tailor | 11th November 2020

From experimenting in the kitchen with her Neopolitan and Sicilian grandparents to  learning the art of cooking under the watchful eye of leading, inspirational chef Anton Mossimann, cooking for HRH and other members of the Royal Family, Emilia Strazzanti’s love affair with food has been evident throughout her childhood and career.

Now a chef, writer and food business developer, her love for food has grown beyond a passion. Also, co-founder of family run, Sicilian business Stazzanti, it’s here she brings the authenticity of Italian cooking to life through the ever-popular Sicilian Brunch pop-up and The Sicilian Supper Club, and more recently, Il Piccolo Pacchetto (the little parcel) and the new Sicilian Deli Range available online.

Ahead of her new masterclass video series on how to recreate a Sicilian supper club at home, she shares her golden rules on how to cook up a storm like a true Italian at home.

Cupboard essentials – Everything you absolutely need

  • A good extra virgin olive oil 
  • Dried oregano  
  • Fennel seeds 
  • Garlic 
  • Chilli flakes 
  • A good quality sea salt  

Sauces – They should be the base to every dish

My grandad from Naples always taught me that a good sauce (Sugo or Salsa) needs to simmer for a minimum of 20 minutes and you have to choose the best tomatoes, either tinned or a good quality Passata. It’s the base to many a dish so the time taken to cook it and the quality of the ingredients are essential.  

Oils – The importance of a good olive oil 

Olive varieties have different characteristics, so you want to choose the right olive oil and variety for your dishes. I tend to use a Sicilian Moresca olive variety as its fresh, grassy, tomato notes are so versatile and uplift any dish! This is what our own Strazzanti olive oil is which is available from our Sicilian Deli online but if you go into any good deli you will be able to find an array of good quality extra virgin olive oils – make sure to look at the characteristics of the olives e.g. grassy, spicy so you can select the best variety to compliment your dish.  

Pastas – Know your penne from your fettuccine 

A few golden rules I follow for basic sauces – if you have a smoother/oil-based sauce like Pasta Aglio Olio you want a long thinner pasta like spaghetti so the pasta can be fully coated. If you have a chunky sauce, for example a beef ragu using beef chunks that break down during cooking I would go for a ridged tubed pasta such as rigatoni so the meat can get caught up inside the tube as well as sticking to the ridges on the outside. If you have a thick, dryer sauce, for example like broccoli and sausage then you want a pasta shape that will act like a mini bowl to scoop up the sauce so go for a Cavetelli or Orecchiette pasta.  

Salads – The rules to making them great

Make your dressing in the bowl first then add in the leaves rather than pouring a dressing on top of the leaves. If you’re making a potato salad to serve cold make sure you add the potatoes into the dressing hot as they will soak up more flavour!

The kitchen no-no that Brits always make

Never ever cook your pasta from cold water! The pasta water must be boiling rapidly first and well salted. 

Simplicity in my opinion is the hardest thing to achieve as there is no hiding from an abundance of flavours surrounding each other.

The golden rules of Italian cuisine

Keep it simple – 3 – 5 main ingredients in a dish using the best quality and freshest ingredients you can find. And don’t forget to salt your pasta water well.

Champion local ingredients when making desserts

I’ve classically trained in French patisserie for years but what I discovered when working in Sicily was the pleasure of working mainly with the ingredients Sicily is known for, the local fresh fruit and ancient flour grains. So, for example our cakes which you can find on The Sicilian Bakery online and in our stockists use only Sicilian Pistachios, Sicilian Almonds & Sicilian Hazelnuts – they are some of the best in the world and are from local farms in Sicily where we import them directly to East London. When you use local ingredients, you will find the quality is exceptional and an extra pleasure to cook & bake with!  

Simplicity is harder than you think

Simplicity in my opinion is the hardest thing to achieve as there is no hiding from an abundance of flavours surrounding each other. For this reason when cooking simply I like to use the best quality ingredients where I can; take our simple Stuzzichini (small bites) which we serve at the start of a supper club or dinner party – an amazing Pecorino cheese drizzled with a raw Sicilian honey and sprinkle of fragrant Sicilian oregano, perfect with a crisp glass of white wine to welcome any guest! Let the ingredients speak for themselves. This is our ethos with all our cooking, sauces and dishes!  

Keeping it seasonal and local – how to cook Italian when you live in the UK

It might not be the same as going to a local food market in Sicily and speaking to the farmer who picked the produce that morning, but there are now lots of fruit and veg suppliers who are able to source great quality produce from the EU or even select bigger supermarkets. There are also great delis online (such as our Sicilian Deli) which allow greater access to superior quality produce from Italy & Sicily.

Emilia Strazzanti’s favourites

What’s your all-time favourite Italian dish?

My Grandad’s slow cooked beef ragu with rigatoni pasta, lashings of pecorino cheese and extra virgin olive oil drizzled on top with some bread on the side to scoop up the left-over sauce on the plate known as ‘Fare la Scarpetta’! It reminds me of my Grandad and the time I spent with him cooking for the family. 

Top 3 London restaurants for Italian food?

  • Sager & Wilde – Bethnal Green 
  • Lardo – Hackney  
  • Locanda Locatelli – Mayfair (for special occasions!)  

What would you typically cook for a dinner party or special occasion?

Something with aubergine like a Parmigiana! Because I can cook it the day before and it will only taste better the next day. It’s great to put in the middle of the table where everyone can dig in, with other dishes alongside for picking and nibbling! This is one of the Strazzanti family’s favourite ways to eat.  

3 top tips for hosting a dinner party?

1) Keep things simple. You don’t want to be stressed when your guests arrive.

2) Make and prepare as much as you can the day before.

3) Make a dish that can accommodate everyone – having multiple dishes on the go to try and please everyone will just cause stress and you won’t be able to enjoy the dinner party yourself.


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